Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Illegal Images of Legal Acts














Lib Dem Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer puts forward an amendment to Clause 62 of the Criminal Justice & Immigration Bill, dubbed the 'Dangerous Pictures Act' by campaigners.
(
IMAGE: From Parliament Live TV coverage of the debate)

The legislation concerned is one of the most ill-thought out that the Government have come up with. It is a law that was drafted on the basis of a one-woman campaign. A law, potentially coming into force as early as next month that:

  • will criminalise, with sentences of up to 3 years* in prison, the possession of images portraying consensual acts that are legal to actually perform, either because they do not breach existing laws or because they are acted rather than real.
  • could criminalise the possession of stills from well-known films.
  • whose definitions**, using words such as "extreme" are so vague and subjective that it is difficult to be sure what is in breach and what isn't, and surely makes it equally difficult for a jury to reasonably convict.
  • Is considered by Rabinder Singh QC to be incompatible with Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Despite the fact that the legislation is poorly drafted, illiberal and unworkable, a bid to have the relevant clauses removed from the Bill fell through on division in the Lords on 21 April. However, only 13.1% voted.

At today's 3rd Lords reading of the Bill, a bid by the same Liberal Democrats, Baroness Miller and Lord Wallace, to shore up the legislation by adding a requirement for the images to pass the Obscene Publications Act's definition of obscenity also failed, by a margin of 134 to 91 against amendment 13.

This amendment was, however, drafted in a way that (as Ministry of Justice Lord Hunt pointed out during the debate) could potentially have made the legislation wider-ranging than it already is, by removing the necessity for a pornographic image to be 'extreme' (threatening, violent, or of bestiality or necrophilia) in order to be criminal to possess under the new law, only to be obscene as per the OPA. It might also have made it easier to gain a conviction, by bringing in a well-established 'definition' of obscenity in place of the new and subjective definition of 'extreme'. So, I'm not sure that the failure of this amendment is such a bad thing.

What is, of course, is the fact that having completed its third reading this deeply flawed Bill has now left the Lords and is now expected to gain Royal Assent as early as May 8th, with this absurd legislation still largely unchanged.


* Clause 65 of the bill. An amendment to reduce the maximum sentence to 2 years also failed today
**
See point 1.50

Monday, 28 April 2008

EU: Baffled Into Submission


















Is the EU responsible for strangling small businesses as a consequence of yet more over-stringent and over-complex regulation?

Since Christopher Booker & Richard North exposed the cost of regulation to 'SMEs'* in their 1996 book Castle Of Lies, it seems nothing has changed. As Booker's article in Sunday's Telegraph describes, the bureaucrats continue to disregard the interests of the small business.

The article focuses on the case of Quatchem Ltd, an Oldham-based concern specialising in disinfectants, and the effect upon them of the implementation of the Biocidal Products Directive (98/8/EC (PDF)). As Booker explains, the main ingredient of their disinfectant products is a widely used chemical, benzalkonium chloride - However, despite the fact that it's hardly a new formulation, the directive requires Quatchem to submit a sophisticated dossier on the chemical for EU approval at huge expense.

The point at which things begin to get murky is that at which I find that the directive, according to the most recent UK document I can find, came into force here on 1 September 2006 (HSE). It is clearly stated in this document that this date is a deadline for compliance with the directive. So I have to admit to being somewhat confused as to why this is news now.

A post on the EU Referendum blog following on from Booker's article discusses the impact of the directive in some detail, expressing as they do so concern about the loss of readers to more entertaining fare:

"Who, after all, gives the proverbial fig about the intricacies of the workings of an arcane EU directive, when we can soar to the giddy heights of speculation about the current lead item [at Iain Dale's Diary] - Harriet Harman's blog password?" - EU Referendum
Not that the loss of readers as a consequence of too much detailed analysis and not enough entertainment has ever been a concern at Question That!

However, in this instance it would seem that even the stalwart EU Referendum found the whole thing "far too complicated". Blogging about EU legislation really is like going down the rabbit hole - At the beginning, things may seem quite straightforward. Sometimes, it's possible to tease it apart and come out relatively unscathed. Other times, the more time you spend reading about it, the less sense it makes!

One has to be grateful for the diligence of the likes of Christopher Booker - journalists who have devoted much of their careers to explaining the effects the EU has on our lives. And, in their own ways, the bloggers who take up the mantle, including Tim Worstall, Devil's Kitchen and of course EU Referendum, of spreading the word. However, gaps in understanding of the specifics like the one I've discussed in this post play into the hands of the pro-Europeans who're inclined to scream "tabloid Euromyths" and the like at the first criticism of the way. Unfortunately, the way these things work is so f@#king arcane that confusion is just about inevitable.


* Small & Medium Enterprises

Video Of The Week (17)

Video of the Week 21/04 - 27/04: MYR of LDN

I wouldn't describe myself as Ken Livingstone's #1 fan, but I can't fail to be impressed by the efforts of the Stop Boris campaign. This is a great adaptation of Lily Allen's hit 'LDN' made in opposition to the election of Boris Johnson on May 1.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

London Assembly: Voting To Stop the BNP

















With the Mayoral contest having attracted most of the publicity, Londoners could be forgiven for not being aware that they have two other votes on Thursday.

Of course, chances are if you are in London and are reading political blogs like this, you do know, but just in case...










These represent the two different ways in which the people of London can vote for the members of the London Assembly: By constituency and by party. There are a total of 25 members on the Assembly. 14 members are elected via the 14 constituencies (from the yellow ballot paper), and the remaining 11 are elected through their parties (from the peach ballot paper).

At the moment all of the constituency Assembly members are either Labour or Conservative. The remainder, elected through their parties, are Lib Dem, Green, or former UKIP representatives who have rebranded as the 'OneLondon' party, including Damian Hockney.

In order to obtain at least one seat on the London Assembly, a party must poll more than 5% of the vote across the 14 constituencies. In 2004, UKIP averaged 8.8%, winning them 2 seats. The BNP polled 4.7%. This year, however, UKIP's polling has dropped consderably, and in the absence of Robert Kilroy-Silk and Damian Hockney their profile has been much lower. It has been predicted that a sizeable proportion of their vote will transfer to the BNP.

The BNP* present themselves as an alternative to the mainstream parties for people who feel ignored by them and are concerned about immigration, crime and wastage of public money. The party have worked to rebrand themselves, moving away from overt fascism in order to make themselves 'electable'.

However, Nick Griffin - who remains the party leader - has espoused holocaust denial and praised Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Mark Collett, a former Youth BNP leader, remains a member of the British National Party despite declaring admiration for Hitler and the Nazis on film for Channel 4 in 2003, calling for the Royal family to be "wiped out" and describing AIDS as "a friendly disease because blacks, drug users and gays have it".


If you are able to vote in the London elections on Thursday, do so, and do your bit to prevent the BNP gaining seats on the Assembly. You can do so by voting for any party or candidate (other than the BNP, of course) in the list election (using the peach ballot paper). Any vote will play its part in reducing the BNP's percentage.

However, it will be more effective** to vote for a party that is likely to poll more than 5%. Partly because of splits, neither the moderate Euro-sceptic right nor the far left are expected to gain a seat on the Assembly. That means a choice between Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party.


* http://www . b n p . org . uk /2008/04/25/ten-reasons-to-vote-bnp/
** This is because candidates who poll less than 5% drop out of the count. Therefore, should the BNP overcome this threshold, only votes for another party polling more than 5% will help to keep their total number of seats down.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Mayor of London: Decisions, Decisions













It's a week to go until the London Mayoral and Assembly elections and... I still haven't made my mind up which way to vote for Mayor.

The problem, as you may have anticipated, is that both of the main candidates are singularly unappealing, albeit for different reasons. The alternatives, including Brian Paddick, are not polling well at all - It would be a very big shock indeed if the Liberal Democrat were to win, never mind Sian Berry, Lindsey German or Gerard Batten. Votes for these candidates may send a message, but they're unlikely to actually affect the result.

Fortunately we get two votes in the Mayoral election, so we get the opportunity to do both. I have since the start of the race intended to vote for Paddick as 1st preference. But, as in this case my second preference is almost certain to come into play, the dilemma remains.

I discussed in detail the relative policy merits of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson on QT last month. Overall, I felt then that both candidates offer a mixed bag, but Ken's manifestos look stronger and more informed. Boris has been caught out on issues, particularly the costing of bus proposals, and other proposals, such as his FirstSteps housing scheme look ill-thought-out. I consider that many of the questions being asked about Boris Johnson's competence should he be elected Mayor are justified.

Some of the decisions taken by Ken during his time as Mayor hardly bring 'competence' to mind either, however. The amount of money he has spent on PR and other advisers - such as the scandal-hit £120,000(!) per year equalities adviser Lee Jasper - and on relations with left-wing regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, not to mention the Islamic fundamentalist, indicate some peculiar priorities. As does his 'watermelon' pre-occupation with climate change. Although facetious in tone, I consider his suggestion that the threat of climate change warrants a 'nanny state' to be indicative of an authoritarian bent. In combination with his endorsement of New Labour's ID card scheme (and of course more recently his snubbing of a NO2ID hustings that Boris and Brian took part in), this seems like someone who I'd prefer to have as little power as possible...

...But the alternative is Boris Johnson. And, appealing as he is on Have I Got News For You and the like, the idea of him running our capital city is, to say the least, hard to take seriously. A man who has infamously suggested prejudice against black people, Muslims and gay people in his writings in charge of a city as diverse as London? A man who has frequently come across as confused about even his own key policies and whose bumbling persona surely cannot be just an image elected as London's representative as the world's eyes increasingly fall on the city in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics?

For all Ken's faults, this cannot be a good development. I'm reluctant - I've said on more than one occasion that I would not vote for anyone in favour of ID cards, in particular. His tendency towards identity politics and enviro-alarmist rhetoric are major turn-offs too. But, outwardly pleasant and normal as he may seem in contrast to Ken's self-aggrandizing image, I just feel that Mayor Boris would be bad for London...

...And, for that reason, I come to the conclusion that I ought to 'hold my nose' and vote for Ken Livingstone as second preference (after Paddick). I'm still to be fully convinced, however...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

ReCAPTCHA

Every so often while surfing the web I'll run across something that makes me think "what a great idea". ReCAPTCHA is one of those things.

The aim of a CAPTCHA (yes, its an acronym) is to differentiate between humans and automated computer programs such as spam robots. You'll meet one if you try and comment anonymously on this blog and lots of others; they're on sign-up forms for forums; basically anywhere where spam is a problem.

The great thing about ReCAPTCHA is that it not only performs this function (of a spam prevention system), it is also a proof-reading service. It supplies its users with words from books that its creators are trying to digitise but the OCR system was unable to read. The humans who complete the CAPTCHA form do the digitiser's work for them.

Of course, you might be wondering at this stage as to how the ReCAPTCHA system knows what the right answer is. Its creators got around this problem by serving users with two words - one of which is known, the other is not. The known one is the actual CAPTCHA of course, however the system does not indicate which is which, reducing the likelihood of users deliberately giving the wrong word. All in all, this is a really impressive, innovative approach to a problem.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Video Of The Week (16)

Video of the Week 14/04-20/04: Boris Bussed-ed

It's been the month of the 'citizen journalists'. Last week it was Barack Obama; this week Boris was caught on video-camera while out campaigning, letting slip that his new Routemasters will cost £100 million.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Six Months On: Looking Back and Forward

It's six months since I started this blog, so it seems to me like a good time to take stock.

I started it out as a way of expressing and hopefully publicising my views on a variety of matters, and hopefully stimulating a bit of discussion with other bloggers. The name Question That was intended to promote the blog as a place of inquisitive, thoughtful and analytical writing rather than simply another set of opinions.

The posting style and topics covered on the blog over the past six months have been nothing if not varied. From campaigning to philosophical rambling, from music & book reviews to rants, from detailed policy analysis to good old-fashioned argument, I haven't exactly settled into a niche. It's perhaps one of the reasons I have stayed enthusiastic about blogging despite relatively low interest, but I suspect it may also be one of the reasons for said low interest. People don't really have a specific reason to keep coming back, and now I find that although QT is getting an average of just over 60 visits a day, a majority of them are coming through searches.

It has been suggested to me, and I am inclined to agree, that there is a need for more analytical blogging, complementing the often sensationalistic way that Parliamentary activities, reports etc. are reported in the press (or, alternatively, not reported at all) with some more dispassionate analysis. I undertook such a task earlier this month to get to the truth behind tabloid reports on the supposedly EU-mandated changes to the Sex Discrimination Act. Doing this consistently represents a challenge that I believe I am up to, and will give a new lease of life to QT, whose name seems (fortuitously) appropriate for a blog performing such a role.

I don't intend for this type of posting to be to the exclusion of everything else, and I plan on keeping regular/semi-regular features such as Video of the Week and Diktatwatch on, as well as postings related to the new political party (LPUK) of which I have signed up as a member. I will be reducing the opinion blogging, especially off-the-cuff posts (e.g. this) that are essentially space-fillers. In short, the idea is a reduction in quantity in exchange for improved quality.

Finally, I am planning on investing in a blog redesign, to give QT a more professional new look to complement the change in posting style. At the moment it is simply a standard Blogger template with customized colour scheme*. Exactly what it will look like I have little idea as yet, but I'm sure it'll be much more attractive and instill a bit more confidence in the reader that the postings here are worth reading than the current non-design.

Feel free to let me know what you think of all this in the comments thread.

*Dark violet background with pale green header text, pale blue post titles and white post text, in case it looks different by the time you read this.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Blogging Event at the ASI

Last night for me was one spent away from the keyboard and screen, but in the company of my fellow bloggers - enjoying ale, sandwiches and some very interesting speeches and conversation at the Adam Smith Institute.

It gave me an opportunity to meet some of the best-known right/libertarian bloggers in the country, including the listed speakers 'Guido Fawkes', Tim Worstall and Perry of Samizdata, all of whom had plenty to say on the subject of crapness in public life, and all of whom stayed for a good while afterwards to chat and drink with the rest of us.

Among the other friendly faces I met last night are Andrew of Anomaly UK, Jonathan of Samizdata, Devil's Kitchen and a couple of other fellow members of the recently-formed UK Libertarian Party, and Terry Arthur of the Taxpayers' Alliance, appropriately enough as he is the author of 'Crap: A Guide To Politics'. There were a few more whose names and/or blogs I don't recall now, plus one guy who recognised me (somehow) from the Anonymous protest in March!

As you might expect much of the conversation centred around libertarianism, political blogging or both. Some of the most interesting discussion was on the topic of how best to promote smaller government and individual liberty, with some backing the Tories, others perservering with UKIP, and a third group (including myself) suggesting that neither fits the bill and a new, truly libertarian party that is neither moralistic nor xenophobic is needed. I hope, and I'm confident, that plenty more such debate will be had at future events like last night's.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Lisbon Treaty: Stage Managing the Irish Vote

Ireland is the only EU Member State that will hold a referendum on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, since its Constitution requires it.

Not surprisingly, the prospect of real people actually getting to vote on their country's future in Europe has politicians in Britain, Ireland and the EU rather uneasy - a NO vote would be a considerable setback for the grand plan for a centrally controlled European state.

A leaked Foreign Office memo of 29 February indicates how the British and Irish Governments plan to collude to try to ensure that the Irish people vote the 'right way' when the referendum takes place in the summer, referring to:

  • A "need [for the British & Irish Governments] to remain in close touch" ahead of the vote.
  • A planned delaying of the referendum date (now set at June 12) in order to "keep the no camp guessing"
  • A need for the referendum to be scheduled before the Autumn in order to avoid the "risk of unhelpful developments...particularly related to EU defense policy".

Perhaps this will alert as-yet-undecided Irish voters to the cynicism of their Government. Surely there are few things better than giving contemptuous politicians in your own country and elsewhere a black eye at the ballot box.

People of Ireland, Vote No. Please. Because the rest of us don't have the choice.

Hat-tip: Iain Dale

Monday, 14 April 2008

Video Of The Week (15)

Video of the Week 07/04-13/04: Bitter-gate

Perhaps the biggest gaffe of his candidacy campaign so far, Barack Obama's remarks on the 'bitterness' of working Americans fuelled accusations of elitism and condescention.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Stalin to Mr Bean: Is The Transformation Complete?



These are woeful times for Gordon Brown. The Tories' poll lead has now reached 16 points, equalling Blair's margin of victory in 1997. The press columns and the gossip blogs are full of whispers of discontent in the ranks and leadership challenges. And when it comes to the issues, from embryology bills through the Olympic torch to the 10p tax rate, everything Gordon touches at the moment is turning to shit.

The perception seems to be that the Labour party's number one problem is its Number One. As Martin Kettle in the usually Labour-friendly Guardian puts it as he describes the feeling in the Labour ranks:

"There isn't an Attlee or Roosevelt lurking inside the prime minister. There's just the same old Gordon with the same old strengths and weaknesses."

Polly Toynbee, generally about as loyal to Labour as a mainstream press commentator gets without actually being an MP, used her Friday Guardian column to question Brown's ability as PM
"The Wizard of Oz stands exposed, the emperor has no clothes, the box of secrets is empty"
and accused him of "blowing away" his progressive reputation through his abolition of the 10p tax band.


As you might expect, the right-wing press is still more cutting about the PM, Martin Ivens in the Times describes events in Lisbon as a "fiasco" and Brown as having been the "architect of his own misfortune". The column is little short of a compendium of Brown's mis-steps since the initial 'election bottling' farce last October - and it is a long one for just seven months of leadership. Brown has gone from "bottler" to "ditherer" , from a man desperate to hold on to power at the expense of gaining a true mandate to a man with no idea what the f@#k to do with his power.

As Toynbee suggests, Brown looks to have fallen victim to the Peter Principle - to have been promoted beyond his aptitude. Trouble is for New Labour, there doesn't look to be anyone waiting in the wings who is a match for David Cameron in terms of leadership, never mind a 'Roosevelt or Attlee'. Charles Clarke? David Miliband? *shudder*

Hat-tip: Chicken Yoghurt

Friday, 11 April 2008

Surveillance Legislation: There's Always A Catchment

Consider me distinctly unsurprised by the revelations that surveillance powers supposedly for the protection of the public against terrorism and serious crime were abused.

I am somewhat incredulous that, of all things, the perpetrators of this abuse of power were a borough council, using recent information-gathering legislation to spy on a couple for the purpose of establishing whether their children are eligible for entry into a popular school.

This case illustrates something that should really be pretty damn obvious, specifically that powers like this will be applied to matters well outside the stated scope of the legislation once they are granted. This particular instance is so obviously disproportionate that it has attracted national attention. It demonstrates exactly why the kind of legislation (of which RIPA was one example) campaigned against by the likes of NO2ID and Liberty, and of course opposed by LPUK, is so dangerous. Mission creep.

At the same time as providing a good example of the dangers of New Labour's surveillance legislation*, as Longrider points out the Poole spying travesty also illustrates how damaging our state school system is. It has long been the case that housing in the catchment area of a highly regarded school like Lilliput CoE First School is prized, and some parents will go to great, even fraudulent lengths to get their children into one state school over another. This in itself perpetuates the divisions between 'good' and 'sink' state schools. Forget moaning about 'privileged' private schools, this is the real inherent travesty in our education system.


* The council in Poole is Conservative-, not Labour-controlled. Not that that fact makes the legislation this post is concerned with any less flawed.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

LPUK: No 10p Tax Band. Or 20p. Or 40p.

The abolition of the 10p tax band, which previously meant that the first £2,230 of income above the personal allowance (£5,225 up until April 6) was taxed at 10% (HMRC) has met with some justified criticism from politicians and commentators pointing out that, in spite of the Government's rhetoric, the move will make the poorest workers worse off.

The Libertarian Party, of which I am a member, are of the view that a great improvement would be made to this policy by going two steps further.

Specifically, what is needed to put things right is for the 20p and 40p bands to be abolished as well.

Before, the income tax take from someone making a rather paltry £12,000 gross a year (approximately what might be earned in a year working full-time on an hourly wage a little above the legal minimum) was just under £1,223. Now it is £1,313*.

Now, you might call that type of calculation disingenuous, since it doesn't take into account benefits (or indeed other taxes, including National Insurance contributions). But, what it actually means is that over £1000 of what, say, a checkout operator is paid over a year goes into the Treasury instead of into his or her pocket. If they are able to navigate the labyrinthine tax credits system, they might just be able to claim some of it back!

Let's stop all of this 'tax them and make them claim it back' nonsense at once. And while we're at it, reform the whole damn taxation system. LPUK estimate that income tax could be abolished, and the money recouped solely by getting rid of most of Britain's QUANGOs.

Scarcely believably, in 2006 more money (£167.5 billion) was spent on QUANGOs than was taken in by the Government in income tax (£143.3 billion (PDF)). This is before we consider the money wasted in various Government departments, before we consider the costs of administration of income tax and tax credits themselves, and before we consider the costs of overseas military adventures including but not limited to the Iraq War.
Income tax could be abolished without taking a penny from health, social welfare, education, or our defence.


* Based on the Government's (HMRC) data, before any other taxes or benefits/credits are taken into account.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

NO2ID Mayoral Hustings












Five Mayoral candidates* standing up against the database state at a NO2ID event on April 8...and one cardboard cutout.

*From left to right: Jenny Jones (representing Sian Berry), Green Party; Lindsey German, Left List; Boris Johnson, Conservatives; Chair; Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrats; Gerard Batten, UKIP.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The Making Of A Stealth Edit

The Devil's Kitchen has the extraordinary back-story of the BBC's de-balancing editing of an article on the decreasing of global temperatures in 2008.

It seems that the changes that were made, which I highlighted yesterday, at the behest of one Green activist, Jo Abbess. Bishop Hill's blog carries the full exchange of e-mails between Abbess and the BBC environment correspondent Roger Harribin.

Who would think that the BBC would be so easily influenced. Fellow libertarians, whenever we see a story on the BBC website which fails to provide a libertarian viewpoint, we now know what to do!

Video Of The Week (14)

Video of the Week 31/03-06/04: Ken Livingstone's Proudest Moment

Liberal Democrats & Ken Livingstone

Originally posted at Liberal Conspiracy

Ken Livingstone (Andrew Marr Show, 11/11/07):
"Well I've always been in favour of ID cards, not so much because I think they'll stop terrorism because Al Qaeda will get perfect replicas, because vast millions of dollars have been poured into that organisation, but I think they'll just be very good at helping deal with low level crime and allowing people to identify who they are."

Ken Livingstone (Independent, 07/04/08):
""I'd rather have the nanny state than the collapse of human civilisation in the middle of this century, because climate change carries on and violent weather makes life intolerable. And anyway, the English have always liked being disciplined by nannies."

Liberal Democrats vote for Ken Livingstone out of ignorance.

Monday Funnies

1.
From the BBC Biased Open Comment Thread. Anyone who's spent much time around Chomskyite leftists banging on about the evils of the 'MSM' will enjoy this one (or perhaps not):

"Oh, no worries, Susan. I keep telling my parents that they're being fed crap by the German MSM. Sadly they don't have a computer so they can't access the alternative newsmedia I am relying on (Politically Incorrect Blog, LGF [Little Green Footballs], Jihadwatch etc.).

A lot of people are waking up because they can cross-check the MSM stuff..."
- disillusioned_german

2.
Overheard in the social club, a top contender for 'Daft Bugger of the Year' (paraphrased):
'You know, I was so relieved when I found out I'd won the Grand National sweepstake. All day I was wondering 'Is someone threatening me?', 'How did they get access to my wallet?'. There was a note in there reading 'Comply Or Die'!' - Friend who shall remain un-named

3.
Good advice for chefs (not sure it's particularly useful to anyone else!)
"Every time I can remember [Gordon] Ramsay vomiting, on any of his shows, there's always been a scallop involved. I wouldn't serve him one on a bet." - Rube E Tewesday, Straight Dope Message Board

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Blunt Instruments

The investigation I undertook on Wednesday to find out the truth behind tabloid articles shouting about an EU conspiracy to ban flirtatious banter in our pubs and bars found that the reality isn't quite like that...but is actually just as worrying if not more so.

The reality centred on a 'Statutory Instrument', number 656 in 2008, that was laid before Parliament by the Government Equalities Office on March 14th. Statutory Instruments allow legislation to be amended (as long as it is "within the scope" of the Act being amended) without division of Parliament or even Parliamentary debate.

Perhaps this doesn't seem that unreasonable at first glance - Minor adjustments need to be made to some Acts all the time just to keep them compatible with current practice. However, the 'case of the banned pub banter' has raised real objections about the possibility for abuse that is inherent within the 'statutory instruments' system.

By the Government's own figures, contained within an 'impact assessment' of the amended legislation (SI-2008/656 Explanatory Memorandum, PDF), the costs of the new legislation in increased sex discrimination tribunals are estimated at £156.81 million (pg14)! Yet, despite this - despite the fact that it actually introduces a whole new law, that of employer responsibility for third party harassment, this amendment was evidently not seen to be sufficiently outside the scope of the Law laid down following Parliamentary debate in the original Act to justify Parliamentary debate. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The tabloids who covered this move on March 31st and April 1st were more than justified in pointing out what has happened. Unfortunately they distorted the truth in two critical ways. First, as I discussed in Wednesday's post, by taking an extreme and unlikely interpretation of the new legislation (the only way what is described by those articles is would plausibly happen is if a clued-up member of staff deliberately uses it against her managers). Second, by painting it as being the fault of the EU.

The Government's own documentation (PDF, as previous) confirms my findings of Wednesday that the new amendment goes beyond minimum EU requirements (pg13). There's nothing wrong with this in principle. What is surely wrong is the use of a Statutory Instrument to institute such legislation. It cannot be justified on grounds of being trivial (£156.81 million a year, remember), and it cannot be justified on the grounds of being required by an EU directive, because it bloody well isn't required by said directive (the Equal Treatment Directive 2006/54/EC).

The numbering isn't entirely helpful (for some reason there are big gaps), but it is clear that hundreds of Statutory Instruments have been 'laid before parliament' since January 1 2008. In 2007 the numbering reached 3662.

It is time the spotlight was shone on this law-making by decree. They're hardly perfect, but in this case I am grateful that the Mail, the Sun, and in their unique way the Daily Sport have, in this unusual case, done so.

Is Tim Ireland Preoccupied With Guido Fawkes & Iain Dale?

I've spent the best part of the last hour reading painstakingly through the most dismal of the well-known blogs in the British blogosphere to bring you some statp0rn of my own, so I hope you appreciate it!

If anything, these stats are generous, because I haven't included posts that are obviously about Guido or Dale but don't contain their real names or their pseudonyms (such as this one) or are about Guido or Dale via someone else (like this one), and in my totals of Bloggerheads posts I have included video posts like this.

Incidentally, if Tim Ireland is a 'meta-blogger' who blogs about other blogs (MatGB), then here I am a 'meta-meta-blogger'. How about that for an 'About Me' description?!


BLOGGERHEADS POSTS SINCE JAN 1:

January: 23
February: 64
March: 45
April (so far): 9
TOTAL: 141


BLOGGERHEADS POSTS SINCE JAN 1 CONTAINING 'Paul Staines', 'Staines' or 'Guido':

January: 9 (39.1%)
February: 14 (21.9%)
March: 6 (13.3%)
April (so far): 7 (77.8%)
TOTAL: 36 (25.5%)


BLOGGERHEADS POSTS SINCE JAN 1 CONTAINING 'Iain Dale' (including those that also contain 'Paul Staines', 'Staines' or 'Guido')

January: 5 (21.7%)
February: 12 (18.8%)
March: 10 (22.2%)
April (so far): 5 (55.6%)
TOTAL: 32 (22.7%)


On the other hand...

BLOGGERHEADS POSTS SINCE JAN 1 CONTAINING 'Political Betting':

January: 0 (0%)
February: 0 (0%)
March: 0 (0%)
April (so far): 1 (11.1%)
TOTAL: 1 (0.7%)


Meta-blogger, my arse.

The BBC, Climate Change & Ideological Correctness

Hat-tip: Samizdata

It snowed in London last night, so I can't quite blame the global warming hystericists for being a bit uneasy. Still, surely the BBC's indulging in behaviour straight out of the pages of 1984 is inexcusable.

An article headed 'Global Temperatures to Decrease' contained the following passage when it was published late last week:

"Global temperatures will drop slightly this year as a result of the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said.

The World Meteorological Organization's secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, told the BBC it was likely that La Nina would continue into the summer.

This would mean global temperatures have not risen
since 1998, prompting some to question climate change theory.


But experts say we are still clearly in a long-term warming trend - and they forecast a new record high temperature within five years."
A rare example of impartiality on this issue from the BBC, I thought when I read this article at the time. I almost blogged about it, congratulating the BBC for making at least an attempt at balance. I'm pleased I didn't now, because the balancing statement is no longer there!

The beginning of the article (still with the same title, and no indication (e.g. by date) of it having been altered) now reads as follows:
"Global temperatures for 2008 will be slightly cooler than last year as a result of the cold La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said.

The World Meteorological Organization's secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, told the BBC it was likely that La Nina would continue into the summer.

But this year's temperatures would still be way above the average - and we would soon exceed the record year of 1998 because of global warming induced by greenhouse gases."
Balancing statements have been relegated to the 12th paragraph.


While I'm on the subject, I'm not sure how blinkered you have to be to argue that the BBC's current affairs coverage is biased to the right, and illustrate this argument with quotes from one interview of Sir David King (who isn't even a climate scientist, by the way) by Andrew Neil...Like Johann Hari did in Thursday's Independent.

Hello?!? This isn't the same publically funded monolith that has set up the BBC Green campaign, we're talking about here is it? This is also the same BBC that bases news items on findings from think-tanks as thoroughly leftist as the Heritage Foundation is thoroughly right-wing, yet you criticise Andrew Neil's citing of findings of the latter, but are silent on the former. I wonder why? And then, there's the things they get up to when they think we're not looking that are as blatant as the subject of today's post here.

Johann Hari: Stick to what you're good at. Judging balance in the British broadcast media is obviously not it.


UPDATE:
Mark Wadsworth informs me that not only did the BBC stealth-edit the article, they changed the title as well! The title of the original piece was 'Global warming dips this year'.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Diktatwatch: To Miss With Love

Not a specific 'Diktatwatch' to read and be astounded (and horrified) by. This is a whole blog that I discovered last month and I consider to be a must-read for anyone who wants to know what is wrong with the way this country is governed and its public services are managed.

To Miss With Love is the blog of a black female teacher in an inner-city London secondary school, using the nom de plume Snuffleupagus. Her posts Breaking The Law and its follow-up Hanging my Head describe the difficulties 'Snuffle' faced in trying to make the classroom a suitable learning environment for two science GCSE students.

"It feels like every bit of the system works against me trying to support Frustrated." - Snuffleupagus, 'To Miss With Love'

One Man's Truth Is Another Man's Bias

Johann Hari's latest article is only the latest broadside in the simmering debate over which way, if at all, the BBC is biased.

Hari suggests in the column that originally appeared in Thursday's Independent that the BBC's current affairs coverage is "being corrupted", citing the prominence of ex-Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil in political programming. Hari has previously asserted that "bias...skews the [British Broadcasting C]orporation to the right.". Similar sentiments have been expressed by left bloggers including Dave Hill and Sunny Hundal.

Of course, on the other side are blogs including the British blogging institution Biased BBC, and its more recently established competitor (imaginatively named BBC Biased), dedicated to highlighting what the authors and contributors consider to be political skew to the left at the BBC.

As Hundal wrote in the above-linked CiF piece, the BBC has always come under attack from the political right and left for its supposed bias towards the other side. He then goes on to argue that 'we' (left-liberals) should 'stop supporting' the BBC because of its 'rightwing bias'. The Biased BBC contributors would no doubt concur with the 'stop supporting' part, but for rather different reasons.

Trouble is, we don't actually have the choice to stop supporting the BBC, no matter how we feel about the impartiality or otherwise of its political coverage, or indeed the quality or otherwise of its entertainment broadcasting! All of this bluster about bias, from either side of the political spectrum, is just demonstrating why compulsory public funding of the BBC in the form of the TV license is such an inappropriate funding model.

If the TV license were abolished, and broadcasters made to compete evenly for viewers, people would have the choice of watching the news and politics coverage that suits their views, and this entire, irreconcilable debate will become irrelevant. And we'll all breathe a big sigh of relief.


Incidentally, while researching for this post I discovered that biasedbbc.blogspot.com is no longer taken, and I grabbed it (the well-known Biased BBC site uses virtually the same address but including a hyphen between 'biased' and 'bbc'). If anyone is interested in making use of it, e-mail me (questionthatblog@gmail.com).

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Not Ze New Labour Logo

Via Iain Dale







(Hint: Look at the blue part of the logo)
UPDATE (04/03): Devil's Kitchen has a snazzy animation that explains all.

More: Guido Fawkes; ConservativeHome

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Did EU Ban Calling Bar Staff 'Darling'?

A peculiar story turned up yesterday. It being the topic of the headline of the April 1 Daily Sport, I thought it might have been an April Fool's joke. But apparently not, since the tale of Harriet Harman using EU law to ban pubgoers from calling barmaids "darling" or making risque jokes also appeared in the Sun, Daily Mail and Evening Standard.

OK, so maybe it wasn't intended as a joke. But is it true - or just a bit of tabloid mischief?

Some fairly serious people have made statements on this 'EU legislation'. The Daily Mail/Evening Standard* quotes Stephen Alambritis of the Federation of Small Businesses, who described it as "heavy-handed" and "unfair to employers", and at the Cornerstone Group blog Tory MP Brian Binley talks of a "ridiculous new regulation" that will "place a burden of £10 million per year on small businesses".

The Daily Mail article names the regulation of concern as being part of the European Equal Treatment Directive (1976), which deals with equality between men and women in matters of employment and occupation (76/207/EEC (PDF)). This directive was amended in 2002 (2002/73/EC (PDF)) and consolidated in 2006 (2006/54/EC (PDF)). Definition d) in Article 2 of the latter defines 'sexual harassment' (as part-quoted in the Daily Mail article) as:

"where any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment."
and point 2 of the same article states that the definition of "discrimination" includes 'sexual harassment'.

Article 26 of the new Equal Treatment Directive states that EU member states are directed to "...encourage...employers...to take effective measures to prevent all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex, in particular harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace...". Governments are requested by article 33 to bring into force laws and regulations required to comply with directive 2006/54/EC by 15 August 2008.


The Daily Mail article describes Harriet Harman as having used a statutory instrument to push through amendments to existing sex discrimination law without parliamentary debate. The amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act (1975), SI 2008/656 (PDF), was laid before Parliament on 14 March. Section 4 of this amendment reads as follows:

4. In the 1975 Act, after section 6(2A)(7) (unlawful harassment) insert—

(2B) For the purposes of subsection (2A), the circumstances in which an employer is to be treated as subjecting a woman to harassment shall include those where—

(a) a third party subjects the woman to harassment in the course of her employment, and

(b) the employer has failed to take such steps as would have been reasonably practicable to prevent the third party from doing so.

(2C) Subsection (2B) does not apply unless the employer knows that the woman has been subject to harassment in the course of her employment on at least two other occasions by a third party.

(2D) In subsections (2B) and (2C), “third party” means a person other than—

(a) the employer, or

(b) a person whom the employer employs,

and for the purposes of those subsections it is immaterial whether the third party is the same or a different person on each occasion..

The definition of harassment that is being used here was introduced by section 5 of another statutory instrument back in 2005 (PDF), and implements the definition given in the EC directive.


The tabloid articles have certainly sensationalised this development, but as I hope the above has shown they were certainly not made from whole cloth. The EU legislation, that has been cited by the Equalities Office as the impetus for the amendment, is not clear on the specific subject of harassment of employees by third parties, such as pubgoers. It seems that, once again, the Government have piggybacked on an EU directive to bring in legislation that is rather more far-reaching than required.

The combination of the wide and subjective definition of harassment and the new amendment could (while rather unlikely) have the effect described in the newspaper articles. The Daily Mail article in particular, beyond the lurid headline and first paragraph, describes the new legislation and potential consequences, that are discussed by the Equalities Office themselves in an explanatory memorandum (PDF), very accurately.

The use of a statutory instrument to bring in a significant change in Law like this without Parliamentary debate, one not actually required by the cited EU Directive, is deplorable.


* The article is virtually the same at both sites.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

April Fool Around

My intention of coming up with a great April Fools post went by the way side, despite some great suggestions from ActonHighStreet and Giles that I just couldn't conjure up the wit needed to follow up.

So, instead, here's a quickfire roundup of some of the best (and worst) April Fools gags from around the blogosphere:

Guido Fawkes announces that Boris Johnson will lead for the Conservatives at Prime Minister's Question Time - against Harriet Harman for Labour.

A Very Public Sociologist blogs a leaked press release stating that Richard Barnbrook has defected from the BNP to the Left List.

Laurence Boyce at Liberal Voice suggests "weighted votes" as an alternative to proportional representation - and Matt Wardman analyses the proposal.

Birmingham University Conservative Future
make a case for the reinstatement of the British Empire.

Cassilis provides a bold, grotesque 'commissioned' portrait of Gordon Brown.

The Daily (Maybe) announces the launch of a nude calendar to raise funds for the Green Party.

Iain Dale gets in late with his poll asking 'Should I take part in Celebrity Big Brother'? Never mind, at least Chris Paul was taken in by it.